A judge in British Columbia is expected to hand down a ruling today regarding whether Canada’s anti-polygamy law violates the country’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a decision that will likely fuel the ongoing debate about whether multiple-partner unions should be legalized.
The Canadian Press is reporting that the court will rule today on a case involving two religious leaders of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a sect which holds polygamy as a tenet of the faith.
Two months of testimony were heard from both sides of the issue with lawyers and civil liberties advocates saying current law is outdated and should allow the unions.
Those who oppose multiple-partner marriages argued that it leads to physical and sexual abuse, child brides and the subjugation of women, all of which were said to have occurred in the Canadian community.
Regardless of how the court rules today, the decision is expected to be appealed to the country’s highest court.
The prospect of multiple-partner unions is no longer far-fetched and is a debate that is well underway around the world. Aside from television shows normalizing polygamy, such as HBO’s Big Love and TLC’s Sister Wives, various civil liberties groups and academics have been advancing the idea for some time.
Elizabeth Marquardt, writing in the Huffington Post, documents the many strides already being made to promote legalization of polyamorous relationships.
For instance, a major report issued in 2001 by the Law Commission of Canada concluded that marriage should probably not be “limited to two people.”
In an Oxford-published textbook, a British law professor called the idea of marriage being between two people an outdated way of thinking.
Marquardt also cites the work of Elizabeth Emens of the University of Chicago Law School who published a substantial legal defense of polyamory in a legal journal. She suggested that “we view this historical moment, when same-sex couples begin to enter the institution of marriage, as a unique opportunity to question the mandate of compulsory monogamy.”
Approval of polygamy isn’t just being advanced in academic circles, however. Roger Rubin, former vice-president of the National Council on Family Relations, which is one of the main organizations for family therapists and scholars in the United States, believes the debate about same-sex marriage has “set the stage for broader discussion over which relationships should be legally recognized,” Marquardt writes.
“The Alternatives to Marriage Project, whose leaders are featured by national news organizations in stories on cohabitation and same-sex marriage, includes polyamory among its important ‘hot topics’ for advocacy,” she continues.
She also quotes a July 2009 Newsweek article estimating that there are more than half a million “open polyamorous families” living in America with nearly every major city in the U.S. having some kind of polyamory social group.
In some countries it’s being openly tolerated, such as the Netherlands where Dutch authorities now recognize polygamous marriages contracted in other countries. In 2008, a government panel in the UK recommended that as long as Muslim men married multiple women in countries where such unions are legal, then all the spouses should be eligible for state aid.
Marquardt raises what is the most important quandary of all – what effect these relationships have on children.
“How do children feel when they are raised by three or more persons called their parents, especially when those people disagree?” she asks. “If their three-plus parents break up, how many homes do we expect these children to travel between? And why would anyone watching news coverage of arrests at polygamist compounds in Texas or British Columbia – seeing hundreds of pale women wearing identical ankle-length dresses and braided hair amid reports of widespread abuse of and pregnancy among girls – think that polygamy is compatible with a society that values women’s rights and children’s safety?”
Just a few years ago, opponents of same-sex marriage warned that if we open the door to homosexual unions, it will be just a matter of time before the same rights will be demanded by polygamists.
It appears they were right. And even though acceptance of these unions may not be right around the corner, that day is indeed coming.
“Get ready for the debate,” Marquardt warns. “And in the meantime, wedding planners: start figuring out how many brides and grooms you can fit down that aisle.”
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